Impartial jury can be found to judge Whitey Bulger, but challenges remain

Credit: Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro
Credit: Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro

Starting this week 18 people will be picked to decide the fate of one of the most notorious accused killers in Boston history.

Jury selection in the trial of alleged mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger is set to begin Thursday and some legal experts said that finding an impartial jury can be achieved, despite Bulger’s notoriety.

“A lot of folks get most of their news from Jon Stewart and … [Stephen] Colbert so my guess is that if you have a large enough jury pool from perspective jurors you will likely find folks who don’t know much about it, especially younger folks,” said Robert Bloom, a Boston College Law School professor who has prosecuted cases in Norfolk County.

Bulger, 83, will face trial at the federal courthouse in South Boston. It serves as the main federal court for the District of Massachusetts and draws potential jurors from a pool of thousands of people in Barnstable, Bristol, Dukes, Essex, Middlesex, Nantucket, Norfolk, Plymouth and Suffolk counties. Court officials said last week that the jury pool for Bulger’s trial will be in the hundreds.

During a March hearing, Judge Denise Casper said she anticipated seating 18 jurors for what is expected to be a lengthy trial. The 18 people include six alternate jurors.

Casper also said that she expects trial days to last from 9 p.m. to 1 p.m. each day, except one day each week that will go from 9:30 a.m. until about 3:30 p.m.

Both Bulger’s lawyer and an assistant US attorney said they expected the trial to last through August and possibly into September with prosecutors ready to perform a lengthy cross-examination if Bulger makes good on his promise to testify.

While federal jurors are compensated $40 per day and for travel, having to sit inside a windowless courtroom for the entire summer will likely not be appealing to many people in the jury pool. Jurors will have to come up with a good reason to avoid that, said Boston-area attorney William D. Kickham.

“Given the seriousness of this case and the fact that everyone is required to serve some term of jury service, jurors shouldn’t expect that they can just get an automatic out,” he said.

Optimum jurors
BC Law School Professor Robert Bloom explains what he thinks prosecutors and defense will look for in the Bulger trial jurors.

*Prosecution: “If I were the government I might be looking for people who might be perceived to be law and order folks who wouldn’t think the FBI would be involved in such an individual.”

*Defense: “If I were the defense I would be looking for people who might be interested more in the rights of citizens and the inherent distrust for law enforcement agencies.”

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